I never set out with the intention of becoming a specialist in wet weddings, but somehow it seems to have been my calling over the last few years!
Back in December 2015 I found myself facing two back to back big weddings on the weekend that Storm Desmond hit. It took 3 different vehicles to get me to the first wedding, and despite that help I still had to wade up to my waist in flood water, my camera bag wrapped in three bin liners and held aloft with a sleeping bag and toothbrush. I knew that even if I made it to the second wedding there was no chance of getting home in between.
After a night’s sleep on a sofa in the hotel basement, a lovely farmer friend made a special journey and scooped me up in his tractor the next morning and took me to venue number two. I spent the journey balancing an emergency wedding cake on my knee – no mean feat keeping that intact while riding in a tractor cab through deep floods!
Both those weddings were bloody fantastic. I’ll never, ever forget them. A little part of me has loved every stormy wedding challenge since. Yes, heatwaves and cold beers are wonderful. Sunsets and golden hour are lush. But OH the romance of being the only ones to brave the weather. Watching a couple snuggle together and sweep the hair out of each other’s eyes before a kiss. The excitement of having no idea what the rain will look like on the photos – weirdly invisible, an eerie fog or a beautiful confetti effect – it’s nature at it’s finest and most unpredictable.
Despite my romantic view, I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be wishing for the heavens to open on your big day. But, if it looks like they might, then here are a few tips to help you – and your photographer – be prepared.
Tips for couples
Be mindful of weather when you choose your venue. Will it be easy to access in all conditions at the time of year you have chosen? What are the options for using different spaces if it’s too wet for guests to go outside? Where will you all go while the main room is being changed around (between ceremony and wedding breakfast, then again ready for the evening do)? Are you happy with that option? What will it be like for photos? Is there somewhere dry, and ideally light and attractive where your group shots can be taken? If you’re feeling concerned at all then ask to see some full galleries of wet weddings there so you know what to expect. You might be happy to take a gamble, if you’ve fallen in love with a remote venue with amazing grounds, and that’s fine, as long as you know what your Plan B will look like!
If the forecast looks poor as your day draws closer have a quick chat with your photographer. There should be a plan in place for where to do group shots and portraits. Being able to get outdoors with some shelter may mean a short drive with your photographer on the day to make the most of some tree cover, a barn doorway….a bridge…etc. It’s good to have this planned in advance.
Be ready to invest in nice wellies and brollies if the forecast isn’t looking good. These can always be returned if you don’t need them. Even on a dry day the ground can be very muddy, so a pair of wellies is usually a good idea if you are planning photos on a fell or by a lake. You can always carry your shoes and swap back into them.
Think about practicality if you’re wearing a wedding dress. If you really have your heart set on a huge meringue and cathedral length veil then go for it, but it’s wise to at least consider how it (and you!) might cope if your day ends up a bit waterlogged. Fabrics with a bit of texture or lace overlay tend to be more forgiving when it comes to getting damp and any marks are less noticeable. Pure silk soaks up everything. Even if you don’t venture outside it will pick up moisture from other people going in and out on a wet day, so be prepared to spend a lot of time holding it up if you’ll be worried about it getting marked. It still surprises me that more brides don’t go for a shorter dress option. These can look amazing, show off your shoes, are more practical in wet/muddy weather and cooler in hot weather. Or – go for both! There are also some fab designs that feature a detachable skirt – which means you can have floor length romance for the ceremony and portraits but then remove the top layer for a sleeker evening look which is easier to manage on the dance floor.
Umbrellas can be chosen to tie in with your own style/theme. For a smart traditional look pick cream or white to match your outfit. Transparent brollies are a nice, light option and in my opinion are less distracting in shots. Increasingly couples are also going for something a bit bolder – brights, tweeds, tartans, florals – these can all look great too especially if you have several of them for some group shots.
If it’s chucking it down in the time slot you’d allocated for your couple shots, then work with your photographer and other suppliers to adapt the schedule slightly if you can. Even in the Lake District it’s unusual not to get a gap in the weather…often it feels like it’s the only place where it pees it down all day then the sun pops out to set! Nipping outdoors for 10 minutes in between courses, or before the speeches, can make a huge difference to your final gallery.
A concerned couple look considerably less attractive than a slightly damp one! I’ve shot over five hundred weddings and I’d guess at least a third of those have had some rain. Not one of those couples didn’t have a fantastic day. Yes, you may have to tweak your hair and make up. You may have to faff around a bit more with umbrellas and wellies and timings. BUT – your flowers will look even more fresh and beautiful with raindrops on them. You’ll be way more likely to have dramatic skies. Your guests will still have a brilliant time – in fact wet weddings often have the best atmosphere. The rain drives all your guests into one area and this makes for a much livelier party. Plus – who wants bright sun to highlight all their wrinkles anyway?!
Tips for photographers
Be guided by the wishes of your couple. I’m lucky to have built up a large portfolio of wet weather shots, which often encourages my couples to brave the elements and trust my judgement. I do still get couples who would rather stay indoors or completely undercover if the weather is poor. This is totally understandable – a fortune has usually been spent on professional hair and make up, outfits, shoes etc – and with a long day “on show” to their friends and family they don’t want to take any risks ruining these. I’ll never force anyone out into the rain, but I will carefully manage expectations – if we don’t venture down to the lake, there won’t be any photos of them at the lake, it’s as simple as that! I am always happy to go out, but will be guided by my couple, as there’s no point in them looking miserable or concerned at the end of a jetty!
Reduce your kit
If you’re heading out into bad weather, don’t take your whole bag of kit with you. Ideally leave one camera body and lens (at least) somewhere completely secure and dry. Remove any speedlights etc that you don’t need to avoid them getting damaged. If you need to, enlist a helper to hold a brolly over you and your camera as much as possible. I like to wear a coat with a big hood that can cover most of my camera too. It can also be useful to take a large plastic sheet (or bin liner) which can be put under a bride’s dress to protect it from damp ground. If you have high winds to deal with as well a warm thick blanket can be a better option for the couple to wrap up in, rather than struggling with a brolly. Remember that it doesn’t matter what they look like in between shots, so encourage them to cover up with big coats/waterproofs, scarves etc to keep as dry and comfortable as possible.
Give clear direction
You want to minimise the time that the couple are exposed to the rain and wind, so you’ll need to work this differently to a regular portrait session. Time can be very limited, so you don’t have the luxury of chatting away and giving little prompts and jokes throughout. Whilst you are still sheltered (whether that’s in the car, under brollies or hiding in a doorway) give them a clear briefing – where to go, where to look, what to do, what to be careful of, and maybe a silly thing or two to try if there’s time. I explain where I’m going to shoot from and move to and then we then all head off into position. If I’m working from a distance (eg on another jetty or from the lakeshore) then this means I don’t have to try to bellow out to them through the weather. In bad conditions you need to be as efficient and confident as possible. You need to remain positive and calm so that they feel they can relax and interact with each other for just a few split seconds here and there while the umbrella is chucked out of shot briefly!
Group shots can be harder than portraits to manage outdoors in poor weather. It’s much easier to keep a couple relatively dry and intact than it is a large crowd! This doesn’t, however, mean you always have to resort to indoor flash-lit groups. If this isn’t your style then look for different options in pockets of natural light. Smaller family groups can often be done in a nice doorway (them inside, you out, with a helper holding an umbrella over you both). Tree cover can also be surprisingly effective in lighter rain. Don’t feel like you need to do all of the groups in the same place. If time allows use a few different options.
If you are shooting all your groups indoors, try to pick somewhere that not only shows off the venue but also, if possible, includes some of the styling of their day. Perhaps, for example, they had milk churns of flowers that were supposed to be at the entrance but kept getting blown over – could these be moved to either side of a fireplace to frame it nicely? Putting a little bit of effort into creating a nicely composed area for the groups can make a huge difference and there are always people on hand happy to help to do this.
I find candids can be a bit more of a challenge when everyone is indoors, particularly in a smaller venue and in winter. If the couple have budget to hire some form of entertainment (magician, cartoonist etc) then this can help to liven things up and get some good reactions going whatever the weather.
Make the most of the parts of the day when guests move from one location to another. Unless everything is happening under one roof, you should have a chance for some great wet weather candids. It’s tempting to just focus on getting yourself and your kit from one place to another, but if you make time to photograph others at these points it pays off. People are often huddled against the elements or hiding under umbrellas and hoods, but if you can give them a reason to laugh and smile you can get some fun atmospheric shots.
Don’t give up on confetti either. You might struggle to get everyone outdoors for an organised confetti tunnel – the first people out will be soaked by the time the last ones are organised – but you only really need a small group to still make it work. Gather together some willing participants and brollies and get out there.
Some of my favourite wedding galleries are from wet weddings, so in my opinion there is no need for concern over the quality and emotion of the images. What is more likely to be affected, however, is the amount of images they receive. Poor or inconsistent weather means more time is inevitably used up getting people organised and getting lighting right. This means that there may be less time for candid shots during the reception. Having said that, a packed dance floor can often make up for this!
If you’re faced with shooting a wet wedding it can be easy to become anxious that the rain will make everything hugely hard work. This is very rarely the case. Take a quick look at the itinerary of the day and make a note of which parts are actually weather sensitive. More often than not the prep, ceremony, meal and dancing will all be under cover. Generally, it’s the groups and the portraits where you would normally rely on being outdoors. These don’t actually take up a huge part of the day, so a lot of the time the way you shoot won’t even be affected by the rain or wind.
Your job is to tell the story of the day in images. The weather doesn’t mean that there will be any less love, emotion, laughter or opportunity. If you look closely you can find beauty in rain, even if it wasn’t anyone’s first choice. Storm clouds can be stunning. Tiny droplets of water are magical. Heaps of soggy brollies and abandoned high heels are full of personality. You’ll never be short of a photograph to take or a story to tell. You might just need a long hot bath at the end of it!
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